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Cover 03/20/2013

Winners and losers emerge in beer battles at the Texas Lege

Photo: Photos by Justin Parr, License: N/A

Photos by Justin Parr

Scott Metzger, owner of Freetail Brewing Co. and one of the craft brewing leaders

Photo: , License: N/A

"With the new laws, there would be incentive to ramp up production."

McDavid says he still thinks the Texas Craft Brewers Guild was making the best of a tough situation in its negotiations and is ready to roll with whatever comes.

"If this legislation gets passed, I would probably hire a couple of part-time people" and upgrade the tasting room, he says. Besides selling beer at weekend tours limited to 50 people and the quarterly open house, which usually draws about 500 visitors, McDavid says he would consider opening the tasting room for three weekdays during set hours for people who might want to stop in for a pint or two after work.

"I think we can make it work and get a little revenue stream going," he says.

Hereford at Pedernales Brewing Co. doesn't think selling pints at the brewery will help him much. The bill, he says, essentially "allows a brewery to become a bar."

"If I had wanted a bar, then I would have built a bar," Hereford says. "To be able to sell a pint at the brewery, how does that help me?" Selling take-home beers after a tour does more to build buzz and loyalty, he says. Plus, it would have been the best thing for consumers, distributors and the breweries.

"At the end of the day, we didn't get what we needed," Hereford says.

San Antonio's Busted Sandal Brewing Co., which is set to start brewing later this year, won't benefit much from changes, says co-founder Robert Garza. But the new laws are making them re-think their strategy. Now they want a distributor quick, which won't hurt them economically if the distribution rights lose their value anyway.

Jason Ard, owner of Branchline Brewing Co., says little was gained. San Antonio city ordinances governing the location of his Northeast Side brewery may not allow him to sell pints to customers if they set up regular taproom hours.

Microbrewery and brewpub owners hope that some city policies can be changed as the need arises to be friendlier to their circumstances such as granting variances to retail brewpubs that become microbreweries and letting microbreweries sell beer retail at their industrial sites. Alamo Beer Co., last year, worked with the city to clarify city codes to make sure it could build a planned brewery on the near East Side.

"Selling pints is not doing a thing for a brewery like mine," says Anna Kilker, who launched Guadalupe Brewing Co. in New Braunfels with her husband Keith. "We don't have the glasses or the staff to handle that. It's enough just to keep our kegs clean and make deliveries."

Microbreweries did get the right to self distribute up to the 40,000 barrels of beer a year, but few want to keep that labor-intensive task in-house beyond a few thousand barrels. Another new twist in the legislation is that small out-of-state breweries could qualify to self-distribute limited amounts in Texas.

Julia Herz, director of craft beer marketing for the Brewers Association, lauded the Texas brewers group for getting something even this far along.

"It's admirable to get something done," she says. "Every market has moved at its own pace, but Texas is one of the last frontiers to conquer," she says of a state mostly resistant to modernizing beer laws in place since Prohibition was lifted.

She says if these laws pass, "it helps further these breweries' chances and perhaps creates Texas as even more of a destination for beer."

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